No fans for March Madness: Sporting events are being canceled or will be held in empty arenas amid coronavirus concerns
The games go on, but where and in front of how many?
The NCAA’s decision not to allow fans to its annual March Madness tournaments for men and women is the most jarring example yet. NCAA President Mark Emmert made the announcement late Wednesday. “Only essential staff and limited family attendance” are permitted, he said.
Meanwhile, the NBA Board of Governors is mulling whether to continue the season with no fans in arenas or to suspend action for an unspecified period. The league could have a decision as early as Thursday, according to ESPN.
For fans of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, at least three home games were lost after Santa Clara County, Calif., late Monday announced a ban of all large gatherings of at least 1,000 people for the rest of March because of the coronavirus outbreak. The NCAA women’s basketball tournament at Stanford University and one MLS game (San Jose Earthquakes) are also in doubt.
In San Francisco, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors announced Wednesday they will play Thursday night’s home game against the Brooklyn Nets in an empty Chase Center after city officials banned gatherings of 1,000 for at least two weeks. The San Francisco Giants canceled their March 24 exhibition game vs. the Oakland A’s at Oracle Park.
Baseball’s Seattle Mariners said they will move home games at Safeco Field in March after the state of Washington’s decision to ban large group events. The Mariners were to open the MLB season vs. Texas from March 26-29, and Minnesota, March 30-April 1.
Late Tuesday, the MAC announced its postseason men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Cleveland will continue as scheduled but will be closed to the general public.
In Southern California, the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., was canceled. “While we regret that the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells will not take place, the ATP Tour calendar beyond Indian Wells remains as status quo,” ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said in a statement.
Major sports leagues are bracing for what could be a very different world. On Monday, the NBA, NHL, MLB, and MLS jointly barred media from locker room access temporarily. Teams and leagues are evaluating options for playing games without fans.
In England, the Arsenal-Manchester City soccer match scheduled for Wednesday was postponed because Arsenal players were self-quarantining after potentially coming into contact with a rival team owner who has contracted coronavirus. It was the first time players in a major sports league have gone into isolation because of possible exposure, the Associated Press reported.
Several high-school boys basketball teams in Northern California have either withdrawn from the CIF playoffs or not been allowed to play because of exposure to COVID-19.
The spread of the deadly virus has led to confusion over the status of the PGA Championship, to be held in San Francisco in mid-May. The the PGA of America on Tuesday said reports that this year’s tournament might shift to Florida are “inaccurate.”
“They (PGA of America officials) are fully planning on proceeding with the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said. “There is no plan at this point in time for the PGA Championship to be held here. It’s going to be held at TPC Harding Park” (in San Francisco).
There is no doubt about the Ivy League men’s and women’s basketball tournaments: They were canceled Tuesday. Their regular season champions will go to the NCAA Tournament, which faces uncertainty of its own. March Madness games could be played in front of empty stands as part of an emergency contingency plan discussed by the NCAA, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
The Ivy League went further later in the week and scrapped all spring sports.
The actions of North American sports leagues have lagged behind those in Europe and Asia.
On Monday, the Italian Olympic Committee said all sporting events — including everything from the country’s top professional soccer league, Serie A, to local recreational sports — will be suspended until at least April 3. The French government said Wednesday’s soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund at Paris’s Parc des Princes stadium will take place with no fans in attendance.
Meanwhile, the traditional ceremony on Thursday in which the Olympic torch is passed to organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Games will be closed to the public. Only 100 accredited guests will be on hand in Greece to take part in the ceremony. The start of the Nippon Professional Baseball season has been postponed.